OGDENSBURG — Three contested seats are up for grabs on the Ogdensburg City Council, with five candidates on the ballot and one candidate running an energized write-in campaign.
The contested seats are currently held by Republican David G. Price and Democrats Jennifer Stevenson and Timothy P. Davis.
All three incumbents are running for another term. Challenging them are Republicans Steven M. Fisher, William B. Dillabough and write-in candidate John Rishe.
Ms. Stevenson is running for her third term on council. The owner of Blue Heron Realty, Ms. Stevenson takes pride in going out and helping find money for the city. During her time on the council, Ms. Stevenson said, she worked with State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, to obtain a grant for the Ogdensburg Fire Department and requesting a grant for two new boilers and other items for the city Police Department. She said she has been attending meetings regularly working on the multi-million dollar project to rehabilitate the city’s aging wastewater treatment plant.
Fixing the wastewater plant, while expensive, is important for any growth the city might experience.
“My hope is to get this wastewater treatment plant up and running,” she said. “Without that we really couldn’t deal with any new development, because our plant couldn’t handle 30 new houses, it couldn’t handle a new hotel, it couldn’t handle a new large business.”
“What I promise people is plain and simple,” she said. “I will always be available to talk to you. I will always listen to you and I will always give you my thoughts on a situation or a subject.”
Mr. Davis is running for his second term on City Council. The retired pipefitter said he brings a blue-collar attitude to the job on council.
Mr. Davis is an avid fisherman and played a key role in helping promote early walleye stocking and bass fishing in the Ogdensburg region of the St. Lawrence River.
“I think tourists are more and more interested in us and I think that’s going to get better when we develop the waterfront,” Mr. Davis said.
Mr. Davis a former president of the Kiwanis and a member of the advisory board of the Ogdensburg Salvation Army, said when he came on the board four years ago the city’s financial situation was dire.
“I was naive when I walked into what I consider a nightmare, when you looked at the numbers,” he said. “Tough decisions had to be made and so we made them.”
Mr. Davis said he has positive support in the community.
“The people I deal with believe in what we’re doing and where we are headed,” he said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there.”
Mr. Davis said his goals remain keeping the budget and taxes under control, revamping the zoning code and working on making the city more business friendly.
Mr. Price is completing his first four-year term on the board. The Ogdensburg Free Academy Middle School principal, ran for office four years ago, saying his goals were to work to provide opportunities for children in the community, to return properties to the tax roll, and to use the city’s facilities and natural resources to promote Ogdensburg as a destination for industry, tourism, and recreation.
With his social studies teacher background Mr. Davis said he uses his research skills to get more depth and understanding of the issues.
He pointed out his work to revamp the city’s outdated noise ordinance to make it possible for outdoor concerts to held in the city. Mr. Price also wrote and passed a resolution asking the state to reject the Plan 2014 that he said has brought about flooding on the St. Lawrence River.
People are worried about tax increases, but that rests on prior councils he said that did not raise taxes and instead dipped into a reserve fund and ruined the city’s credit rating.
“There was six years of zero percent increase because they spent almost all the fund balance,” Mr. Price said. “So we had to make some hard decisions and bring back taxes. But, we are hoping to stabilize that with losing some positions through attrition and making some efficiencies and seeking some outside revenue.”
Mr. Fisher is making his first run for public office. The retired Ogdensburg police detective is the owner/operator of Fisher Chips and Ice Cream and owns several rental properties in the city.
“People are sick of being overtaxed,” Mr. Fisher said. “I think they need to be lower and assessments need to be reined in and be more fair and consistent. People are afraid to fix up their properties because of assessments.”
Mr. Fisher said he is running because he grew up in public service as a police officer and then as a business owner.
“I’ve still got a little bit more to give,” he said.
Mr. Fisher said people are telling him they are ready for change.
“Nothing has changed in the way the city is run in 40 years,” he said. “We seem to just kick the can down the road. You have to create more business and more growth to get more revenue, instead of just getting it from taxes.”
Mr. Fisher has affiliated his campaign with those of Mr. Dillabough, Mr. Rishe and Jeffery M. Skelly, who is running a write-in campaign for mayor.
“I will work very hard and take a common sense approach to problem solving,” he said.
Mr. Dillabough is making his first run for public office. Mr. Dillabough said he has been in business his whole life. For years, he operated Captain Bill’s Restaurant and then Desparados. For the past 15 years he has been selling cars.
Mr. Dillabough said he has been getting a lot of positive feedback on his campaign.
“Everybody says they want change,” he said.
Mr. Dillabough said he wants the city to be more friendly, citing the premise that people are not fixing up their houses in fear of a higher assessments.
“I’m not saying they shouldn’t go up at all,” he said. “But, they shouldn’t go up for at least five years.”
Mr. Dillabough said he is hoping that voters look towards him, Mr. Fisher, Mr. Rishe and Mr. Skelly favorably.
“We’re trying to get four people in there so we can get things done,” he said. “Maybe we can do some changing.”
Mr. Dillabough said he would like to see the city cleaned up especially along the river.
“From the water it looks terrible,” he said.
Even though he is running as a team with other candidates, he is going to be making his own decisions, he said.
“If I think something is right, I’ll vote for it.”
Mr. Rishe is also making his first run at public office. Mr. Rishe has worked in the city’s development and planning office and is currently the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority’s director of commercial and industrial development.
Mr. Rishe decided to mount a write-in campaign after he posted an online petition calling for a 25 percent cut in taxes and met Mr. Skelly, who was angry about a reassessment of one of his properties.
“There seems to be a groundswell of support for our candidacy and a lot of enthusiasm,” he said.
He said that he and Mr. Skelly have, over 12 weeks of campaigning, developed a platform they would bring to City Hall.
First and foremost on that platform is a reduction in taxes.
Mr. Rishe said that Ogdensburg’s tax rate is high compared to other municipalities in the north country.
“We have the highest municipal tax rate in St. Lawrence County,” he said. “Even at $15 per thousand (the rate with a 25 percent reduction) we would still be way up there.”
A reduction that great, he said, could not happen overnight.
“If elected, we won’t get to vote on a budget for another year,” he said.
Still, it would be his first priority.
“It may take time,” he said. “We never said it was going to be the first year.”
The city needs to adapt to the circumstances it is in, he said.
“You can’t operate the way you did 50 years ago when we had 4,000 more people and a bigger tax base,” he said.
Election day is Nov. 5. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.